They were a little hard on the Bieber last night

Aaron Judge runs out the bomb he detonated off Shane Bieber on the fourth pitch of the game Tuesday night.

New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone is fond of saying his team can turn on a dime. He’d much rather they keep turning on the Cleveland Indians the way they did to open their American League wild card set. As a matter of fact, Boone’s wards were a little hard on the Bieber Tuesday night.

The Yankees and the Indians opened in Cleveland the same night the first debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden went down. Depending upon where you peeked, the country had a hard time determining which wildfire was worse—the allegedly presidential debate, or the Yankees’ 12-3 demolition. The jury may be out until Election Day.

The Yankees could be seen as having had less time to prepare for Indians starter Shane Bieber than Trump and Biden had to face each other. They hadn’t faced the presumptive American League Cy Young Award winner all irregular season long, anywhere. They also went in having lost six of their last seven irregular season games and compiled an 11-18 road record.

Bieber had twelve season starts and faced four postseason teams—three of whom had winning records—seven times. Nobody took him long in any of his starts. Only once all year did he surrender a single run in the first or fifth innings. Nobody scored on his dollar at home all year.

Then the Yankees caught hold of him Tuesday night.

They needed only four straight fastballs to rip two runs out of him in the top of the first. American League batting champion D.J. LeMahieu saw a third straight fastball and lined a single to right field. Aaron Judge started his first plate appearance to follow seeing a fourth straight Bieber fastball. He finished it with that fastball, too, sending it over the right center field wall.

“We had a big, long hitter’s meeting,” Judge said after the game, “about all sticking to the same plan and just trying to work counts, get pitches to drive and I think, as a whole, we did that. That’s when this team is dangerous, when we go out there and we can just grind out at-bats. Any mistakes that are thrown up there, we hammer them.”

Bieber’s fastball sat so easily up or under in the zone to open that LeMahieu wouldn’t exactly call a three-pitch plate appearance a hard grind when pitch three sat right in the middle. Then the slender righthander who hadn’t surrendered a home run at home all irregular season long made the same mistake to Judge over the middle of the plate.

“The first inning didn’t go as planned,” said Bieber, showing a gift for understatement lacking too vividly in the presidential debate hall. “I wish I would have been with my off-speed stuff in the zone, and challenged those guys a little more. I forced myself into some bad situations and some bad counts on top of not having my best stuff and making mistakes. No excuses. It was not good.”

Neither was the rest of Bieber’s outing on a night Gerrit Cole struck out thirteen Indians in seven innings while walking nobody, had only one truly shaky inning (the third) and escaped with only an RBI double by Indians third baseman Jose Ramirez, then surrendered his only other run an inning after that, when left fielder Josh Naylor hit one over the right center field wall.

Cole otherwise looked even better than the guy who didn’t let five walks stop him from beating the Yankees in Game Four of last year’s American League Championship Series. The guy the Houston Astros let walk into free agency and right into the Yankees’ $324 million arms last winter.

In case you were wondering, only one pitcher before Cole ever struck out thirteen without walking a man in a postseason assignment—the late Hall of Famer Tom Seaver, in Game One of the 1973 National League Championship Series, and that was a game Seaver lost to the Cincinnati Reds, 2-1.

When he blew away the Indians’ middle infield, Francisco Lindor and Cesar Hernandez, on swinging strikeouts, before convincing Ramirez his only recourse was to pop one out to Torres behind shortstop, Cole let the Indians know early enough and often enough that they weren’t going to have a simple evening’s baseball to play.

Only nobody paid as much attention to Cole’s work or his marriage with postseason history as they might have paid if the Yankees hadn’t turned Bieber and a couple of Indians relievers into their personal batting practise pitchers.

They slapped Bieber for a single run in the third, two each in the fourth and the fifth. In order, it was AL home run champion Luke Voit doubling Aaron Hicks home with two out in the third, Brett Gardner doubling home Gleyber Torres and LeMahieu catching the Indian infield asleep with an infield RBI single pushing Gardner home in the fourth, and Torres with Gio Urshela aboard hitting one out in the fifth.

That was the 105th pitch of Bieber’s evening, corroborating Judge’s observation of the Yankee game plan at last. By that point, Bieber was probably itching to tell the Yankees what Biden told Trump during one of the president’s more insistent of his nightlong harangues, “Will you shut up, man?”

Interim manager Sandy Alomar, filling in for ailing Terry Francona, was kind enough to lift Bieber after that 105th pitch of the outing traveled from Torres’s bat to the bleachers. He didn’t tell the Yankees to shut up, man, on a night nobody could. But Alomar—whose guidance of the Indians into the postseason in the first place may actually get him Manager of the Year votes despite his interim status—did speak kindly of his still-young pitcher.

“Seems to be he was too excited,” Alomar said after the demolition ended at last. “He was the best pitcher in the American League this year. He had a bad game tonight.” That was like saying the Japanese navy had a bad set at Midway.

Even injury-hobbled Giancarlo Stanton joined in the fun. After striking out twice in four previous plate appearances on the night, the Yankee designated hitter squared off against reliever Cam Hill with one out in the top of the of the ninth and tore a 1-0 fastball—also arriving in the meatiest part of the zone—over the left center field fence.

The Yankee assault and battery almost wiped Chicago White Sox pitcher Lucas Giolito out of the day’s memory bank, thirty-four days after Giolito pitched a no-hitter the too-easy way against the Pittsburgh Pirates. He went into the top of the seventh threatening to become the only pitcher other than Hall of Famer Roy Halladay to pitch a regular-season no-hitter (that was Halladay’s perfect game) and a postseason no-no the same year.

Former Cardinal/Angel Tommy La Stella said not so fast leading off the bottom of the seventh in the Oakland Athletics’ ramshackle ballpark. With the White Sox up 3-0 already, La Stella took what he could get on a 2-2 service and snuck a base hit right through the middle.

Even playing without their best all-around player, Matt Chapman, the A’s made things a little too easy for Giolito and the White Sox. It only began when they were foolish enough to send lefthander Jesus Luzardo, young, gifted, but inconsistent, against a lineup so full of righthanded bats it’s a wonder the Oakland Coliseum didn’t list when they batted.

“Nothing against him,” said White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson when learning they’d face Luzardo, “but we have been doing good against lefties. I guess they haven’t done their homework so hopefully we can go out and continue to do what we’ve been doing against lefties.”

They did. They got six of their nine Game One hits off Luzardo and chased him in the fourth inning. In the third, they had Anderson on second with two out, Jose Abreu at the plate with a 2-0 count, first base open, and previous called strikeout victim James McCann on deck, and A’s manager Bob Melvin elected to let Luzardo keep pitching to Abreu.

Abreu elected to hit the next pitch, a fastball Luzardo intended to sail toward the outer edge of the plate but disobeyed orders and arrived smack dab in the middle. The ball disappeared smack dab over the left field fence. “Obviously,” Luzardo said post-game, “the guy’s an MVP-caliber type hitter, so you’ve got to be careful. I made a mistake. That’s not where I intended to put it.”

An inning before that, Luzardo intended to throw Adam Engel an 0-2 fastball up and in, and the ball disobeyed orders then, too. That disobedient ball went up, out, and into the bleachers.

It’s been that way for the Billy Beane-era A’s every time they reach the postseason. His A’s have been a second-guesser’s delight. This time, the second-guessers get to guess why Melvin insisted on starting Luzardo instead of rested righthander Mike Fiers against the starboard-hitting White Sox. Saying as the manager did that the White Sox hadn’t seen a lefty with Luzardo’s kind of stuff all year won’t fly half as far as Engel’s and Abreu’s home runs did.

This year’s bizarro-world postseason is barely a game old and the A’s and the Indians face elimination games Wednesday. So do the American League Central-winning Minnesota Twins after the 29-31 Houston Astros beat them 4-1 in Target Field Tuesday. So do the Buffalonto Blue Jays (third) after the AL East-winning Tampa Bay Rays edged them 3-1 in Tropicana Field.

The only solace for the A’s, the Twins, and the Jays is that none of them suffered anything close to the assault with deadly weapons the Indians suffered. Those three aren’t presumed to be half as cursed as the Indians—the last time the Indians won the World Series was during the Berlin Airlift.

With the same pairs playing Wednesday, plus the National League’s wild card sets beginning the same day, it’s to wonder only what further strange brews are liable to boil and which boils get lanced. At least there won’t be a presidential schoolyard argument to detract from the main events.

Was your cutout there? Bully!

Lucas Giolito, the big bully.

When Lucas Giolito’s Tuesday night no-hitter is remembered twenty years from now, and the coronavirus world tour has long been a not-so-pleasant memory, bank on one thing. Ten times the capacity of Guaranteed Rate Field will solemnly swear that their cardboard cutouts were at the game.

Much remarked for coming from a high school baseball team where his pitching teammates included Max Fried and Jack Flaherty, the Chicago White Sox righthander nailed thirteen strikeouts, walked a measly one, and threw 20 first-pitch strikes out of 28 batters faced.

Yes, it was the first no-hitter of the pandemic-truncated season other wise known as The Inner Sanctum of the Outer Limits of The Twilight Zone. And, it still counts as a bona-fide no-hitter now and for all time. But you’ll forgive me, I hope, if I’m not exactly in the mood to blast fireworks over it for ten good reasons.

The ten reasons are the number of Pittsburgh Pirates Giolito faced Tuesday night. They weren’t exactly the Big Red Machine, the Swingin’ A’s, the Pittsburgh Lumber Company, or this year’s Dodgers (who have yet to be nicknamed) Giolito had to face for the nineteenth no-hitter in White Sox pitching history.

They may not have even been the 1962 Mets, and these Pirates wouldn’t exactly go over big at the Hungry I or the Improv. Those Mets had Who the Hell’s on First, What the Hell’s on Second, You Don’t Want to Know at Third, and You Don’t Even Want To Think About It’s at shortstop. These Pirates barely fielded a cast of The Real Househusbands of Allegheny County. (That’s a joke, son. I think.)

These Pirates could accuse Giolito plausibly of bullying them. On Tuesday night, their lineup included nobody with an on-base percentage higher than .295. They have one .406 slugger (shortstop Erik Gonzalez, batting leadoff) and he has a .271 OBP. The collective OBP of Tuesday night’s Pirates was .234—fifty points lower than the 1965 Mets. (In due course you’ll see why I now mention that edition and not the 1962 comic opera—who actually had a team .329 OBP among non-pitchers.)

Come to think of it, said .406 slugger was the night’s only Pirates baserunner, reaching on a four-pitch walk to open the top of the fourth, right after James McCann’s sacrifice fly provided what proved the final 4-0 score. His reward for that walk was a first-pitch pop out behind the infield, a four-pitch strikeout, and an 0-2 line out to third base.

These Pirates strike fear in the hearts of nobody except their own fans watching on television and the cardboard cutouts that bother showing up this year. And maybe their own manager. What should have been shocking would have been if Giolito didn’t no-hit them.

“2020 has been a very strange year,” Giolito told reporters after the game from behind his mark. “Obviously a lot of weird stuff going on with COVID and the state of the world, so may as well throw this in the mix.” It’s baseball’s first-ever no-hit, no-run, no-fans-in-the-stands game.

“After the seventh, six more outs, looking at who I was facing, became very, very, very possible, and then we were able to get it done,” Giolito said. “Just staying with the same, like, mental routine for every single pitch. One pitch at a time. Full focus, full execution, straight through the target.”

It couldn’t have hurt that these Pirate targets were big enough that Dr. Anthony Fauci could have no-hit them if he’d thrown from halfway between the pitching rubber and the front of the plate.

For the longest time I thought the no-hitter Cincinnati Reds pitcher Jim Maloney threw at the Chicago Cubs one fine afternoon in Wrigley Field in 1965 was the single most ridiculous no-no I’d ever see or know. And that was a little more than half a month before Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax made those Cubs prove that practise makes perfect.

Until shoulder issues kicked into overdrive for him, Maloney might have been a genuinely great pitcher—but on 19 August 1965, Maloney did everything in his power to give the Cubs a break (those Cubs’ OBP, non-pitchers: .318)—and his Reds did everything in their power to get Cubs pitcher Larry Jackson on and off the hook.

Maloney’s good news: He struck out twelve in ten innings. His bad news: He walked ten. Jackson scattered nine Reds hits but a) only one of the nine came with a baserunner aboard (Vada Pinson, in the top of the ninth); and, b) the only one that mattered was Leo Cardenas hitting one into the left field bleachers with one out in the top of the tenth.

Then Maloney opened the bottom by walking Doug Clemens before getting rid of two Hall of Famers, Billy Williams and Ernie Banks, on a fly out to left and an Area Code 6-4-3. At least that time Maloney nailed the extra-inning no-no. Two months earlier, he lost one to the Mets when Johnny Lewis opened the top of the eleventh with a shot over the center field wall, and Mets reliever Larry Bernearth held fort in the bottom for the 1-0 Mets win.

Giolito is a pitcher who went from nothing special (5.68 fielding-independent pitching in his first three major league seasons) to a very good pitcher (3.29 FIP since last season opened) with outsize potential if he stays healthy. Unlike Maloney against the ’65 Cubs, Giolito wasn’t his own worst enemy Tuesday night, and he faced an aggregation who made those Cubs and the same season’s Mets resemble Murderer’s Row.

During the second inning, the power in Guaranteed Rate Field went out for a moment, a very brief moment. The power of the Pirates was already out to stay.